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New minimum disciplinary and grievance procedures

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In a new series contributed by solicitors Bevans, James Taylor describes the principles that will govern disciplinary and grievence procedures from 1 October 2004.

The Government has recently mailed employers about the three steps to disciplinary and grievance procedures – “put it in writing, meet and discuss, appeal” which come into force on 1 October 2004.

The mailing explains how to avoid falling foul of the new law, which requires employers and employees to follow certain procedures internally before airing their complaints in the publicity of the tribunal.

Key points to note for busy employers are:

1. Inform your staff of the new law and procedures by incorporating them into the staff handbook, pinning up the poster supplied or emailing a link to the DTI resolving disputes site.

2. Get your head around the new procedures – many larger employers will already have a disciplinary or grievance procedure and the existing one should be compared with the new law to ensure they comply.

3. Take steps to involve ACAS, which provides useful guides on the best ways of resolving a dispute.

4. Following the new procedure does not make you immune to a claim – you can’t stop anyone from bringing a complaint, but it makes it easier to show a tribunal that you have acted reasonably if you have kept documentary records and followed proper procedure.

5. Written warnings and suspension on full pay are not covered by the standard procedures although written warnings should generally only be given after careful consideration involving hearing the other side of the story as well.

6. It is more important than ever to keep written records of all meetings and wherever possible communicate in writing. Playing the game will be obvious to the tribunal who may penalise those who, for example, deliberately fix meetings for inconvenient times or fail to keep an open mind.

7. Failure to follow the new procedure can result in an automatic finding of unfair dismissal, an award of at least four weeks pay and most importantly a crippling uplift of between 10% and 50% of any other awards made.

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